Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Makes a Documentary Wedding Photograph?

Wedding photography - and particularly the documentary image - takes up a great deal of my thinking time when I'm sat at my desk editing or reading on the internet. It's a passion as well as a job so I'm quite often distracted by other photographers websites or getting involved in discussions on the various forums that cover the subject. One particular discussion I was involved with earlier this week asked the question:

"What defines a 'documentary / reportage / observational' photograph?"

and it's one of those deceptively simple questions that gets you thinking about everything that you do.

Weddings documentaries are littered with cameras these days - every guest must have one - so what is it that I am doing on the day that differs from everyone else that is taking photographs?

**The majority of my work on the day is unposed**
I'm looking for truthful, natural and unselfconscious photographs of how the wedding day was for everyone who experienced it on the day. (Guests' photographs tend to be about making other guests stand and smile for the camera.)

**My photography on the day is about telling a story**
Wether it is within a single image or a sequence of images I'm always looking to tell the story of the wedding day in each photograph. I'm always looking to show the emotional interaction that is happening on the wedding day - not every photograph is about smiling and looking at the camera; more often it's about the heightened emotions of the day - crying, laughing, kissing, being proud, being overwhelmed, being nervous, being really REALLY happy, being human.

It's most importantly about what is happening 'between' people. Photographing the connections and reactions of the wedding day. I really love that there are so many emotions that couples, parents and friends go through that it makes telling the story of the day so compelling for me.

**It's more than 'snapshots'**
I've been asked before "With so many guests clicking away throughout the day why not just collect all their shots together and make an album?".

Some of the explanations above will go someway to answering the question but I would also say that it's not their 'job' to document the day. They are part of the day. I'm watching, waiting, anticipating and creating photographs that are not just little slices of the day but form part of a narrative that tells the story of the event - in an aesthetic, artistic and pleasing way (I hope).

Before I click the shutter I'm not just thinking about who is in the frame but where we are, what the light is like, what I want to say, how best to communicate what the photograph will tell us, what to include in the frame and what to leave out and what is the split second in time that will register the emotions of the scene (or when is the punchline coming in the speech so I can get everyone laughing at the same time!).
Every guest takes a 'snapshot' so they can remember being there but a good documentaries photographer communicates the emotion of the day to people who weren't there - or who haven't yet been born.